LIFETIME’S TRUE LIFE DRAMA

What Everyone Is Talking About Today

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- We can picture the Lifetime promo now: Meredith Baxter stars as a courageous TV executive fighting for the right of women everywhere to learn about important public-health issues through dramatizations of true-life stories on a pioneering women’s cable network. Her nemesis? C. Thomas Howell, starring as a smarmy corporate player who decides to ban Baxter’s programming from his satellite network over something as trivial as carriage fees.
Negotiations between Lifetime and Echostar are at an impasse; Oxygen and Echostar, in carriage talks since last summer, has struck a deal that puts Oxygen in almost 65 million homes, up from 56 million. Without carriage in Dish’s 12 million homes, Lifetime’s homes drop to 76 million.

Or maybe Watercooler’s getting a little dramatic. Either way, when we heard Echostar had decided to drop Lifetime Movie Network in order to clear space on its lineup for the women’s network competitor Oxygen, we thought this story is getting good. All of this comes amid contentious carriage negotiations between Lifetime and Echostar, which has left Lifetime without a home on the satellite company’s Dish network.

The Lifetime-Echostar negotiations have been at an impasse since last week; Oxygen and Echostar, meanwhile, have been in carriage talks since last summer. The current deal puts Oxygen in almost 65 million homes, up from 56 million. Without carriage in Dish’s 12 million homes, Lifetime’s homes drop to 76 million.

Lifetime is quick to point out that in 2005, its prime-time audience averaged eight times more viewers than either Oxygen or WE, the Rainbow Media-owned women’s cabler. It also charges Lifetime Movie Network’s prime-time household ratings were more than double its competitors. “Echostar has 45 sports networks -- it can’t have four women’s networks?” said Lifetime’s spokesman Gary Morganstein. “This shouldn’t even be an issue.”

Echostar is not shy about saying its negotiations with Lifetime are about economics, and charges the network is turning the business talks into a political fight by enlisting the National Council of Women’s Organizations to join in. In response to claims that Echostar’s depriving its customers of Lifetime is also depriving women of important women’s related health and safety information, the satellite operators has offered to air PSAs about important women’s related messages.

And of course this battle won’t be the last. Negotiations between TV delivery systems -- both satellite and cable -- and networks are often contentious. In addition to Lifetime, Echostar has battled Viacom’s MTV, Disney’s ABC Family and Comcast’s OLN over previous carriage deals. And with CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves highlighting broadcast network retransmission rights as a major revenue-making priority in his new company and cable news juggernaut Fox News Channel’s renewals coming up in the next several years, we’re looking forward to some pretty good drama.

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